Gov. Greg Abbott

Gov. Greg Abbott touted Temple’s economic growth Tuesday night during the Temple Chamber of Commerce’s Salute to Business event.

Gov. Greg Abbott has seen Temple grow from a sleepy, small town on Interstate 35 to an economic powerhouse in Central Texas.

Abbott, a Republican, told the more than 800 people gathered inside the Frank W. Mayborn Civic and Convention Center Tuesday evening that he would go through Temple on his way back home to Duncanville while attending the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1970s.

“I bet when I passed by Temple, at that time, there were only this many people who lived in all of Temple,” the governor said, referring to the crowded room. “And now look at what you’ve grown to be. … It’s been fabulous and impressive to see what you’ve done.”

Abbott was the keynote speaker at the Temple Chamber of Commerce’s Salute to Business event.

“We celebrate this evening the continuing transformation of Temple, beginning with the renaissance of downtown and radiating in all directions,” Temple Chamber President Rod Henry said.

Abbott highlighted several projects that are expected to bring in millions of dollars of investment and hundreds of new jobs to Temple. For example, he pointed to the $106 million distribution facility that battery manufacturer East Penn Manufacturing Co. will build in the city’s industrial park.

“A grant from the Texas (Enterprise Fund) helped close that deal,” the state’s top elected official said. “Texas and Temple work collaboratively on deals that are growing the workforce in this region.”

The East Penn distribution facility is just a small piece of the economic development occurring in Temple. Just last year, the Temple Economic Development Corp. helped bring more than $196 million in investment to the city and 336 new jobs, according to the entity’s annual report. In the past decade, TEDC has brought in more than $2.1 billion in investment and more than 1,500 new jobs to Temple.

“A point I wanted to make about how strong our economy is is the powerful role that people in this room are playing,” Abbott said, explaining that local businessman Drayton McLane III and Temple EDC President Adrian Cannady joined him on a trip to Japan last year to convince businesses to invest in Texas. “That shows the vital role Temple is playing in the future of economic development of our state.”

Not only is Temple becoming a power player in economic development, Abbott said the city is on the bleeding edge of medicine.

“This region is becoming for the state as well as a national leader in biosciences, biotechnology and the medical sector,” the governor said. “When you look at Baylor Scott & White, the Texas A&M Health Science Center and coupled with it the Temple Health & Bioscience District, you can see Temple is evolving into a major regional hub for medical innovation.”

The completion of Interstate 35 has paved the way for much of Temple’s success, Abbott said. Projects like that, he said, are important as the state adds nearly 1,000 people every day.

“If you get on I-35 tomorrow and think, ‘Man, it sure looks more crowded than it was yesterday.’ It is,” he joked. “There are more cars out there every single day, and that’s why we have to continue that construction. … We are adding $8 billion a year to build more roads, focused on congestion choke points to help you get around and to move McLane products a whole lot faster.”

Temple grew by almost 10 percent from 2014 to 2019, according to Temple EDC data. Current estimates peg Bell County’s second largest city as having a population of 83,452. Projections show Temple growing to 88,753 people by 2024.

Temple businessman Drayton McLane Jr. — who introduced Abbott — said the governor has done a good job in fostering a good environment for the state’s economy. But, McLane added, there has been at least one misstep.

“He made one mistake — he went to the University of Texas,” McLane said to laughs from the audience.